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Ahmadinejad’s Left Hand Man Arrested

June 10, 2015
Reza HaghighatNejad
4 min read
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamid Baqai
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamid Baqai
Mohseni Ejei and Hamid Baqai
Mohseni Ejei and Hamid Baqai

On June 8, Iran’s spokesman for the judiciary, Mohseni Ejei, announced that Hamid Baqai, one of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents, had been arrested on corruption charges. Baqai confidently denied the charges against him four years ago. 

This is the second of Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents to be arrested. In February 2015, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, his first vice president, was sentenced to five years in prison, also on corruption allegations.

The judiciary spokesman did not specify the charges against Baqai but reports indicate that, like Rahimi, he is charged with corruption and embezzlement. The site Dolat-e Bahar, which is close to Ahmadinejad’s allies, speculated that he was arrested after a complaint was lodged over the Rajaei and Bahonar Interest-Free Load Fund.

The fund was founded in 1986 as a state-run institution to provide interest-free, “Islamic” loans to borrowers, but Ahmadinejad’s government decided to spin it off as a private, independent entity. Hamid Baqai was appointed to its board after it was privatized.

Then, when Hassan Rouhani began his presidency, his administration decided to take the fund back and reassign it to the president’s office. A new board of directors was appointed, which currently includes Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoon, the minister of labor, a government spokesman, Rouhani’s first vice president, the director of the president’s office and 11 other government officials.

Two days before his arrest, Baqai told the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) that the “seizure” of the fund was an illegal act on behalf of certain members of Rouhani’s government. But an unnamed source within the government told Islamic Republic News Agency that the reverse was true and that the privatization of the fund under Ahmadinejad had been illegal.

However, Hamid Baqai disputed this argument and maintained, “the presidency has no legal license to own financial institutions and nowhere in the statutes of the fund does it says that the fund belongs to the state.”

The fund has a capital of more than $4 million and its new chairman of the board is Rouhani’s first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri. However, Baqai claims that he is the legal chairman of the board and that he will file a complaint to get the seat back.

“Why should I feel that I am in danger of arrest?” Hamid Baqai told a Shargh reporter in 2011 when he was still executive vice president under Ahmadinejad. “Have I committed a crime?” he asked.

The journalist’s question was prompted by news that for several days Baqai had been absent from cabinet meetings and was under investigation for violations he had committed whilst head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization between 2009 and 2011.

Baqai was never popular. Numerous reports were published about verbal arguments he had with reporters, judicial officials and members of parliament. However, he had Ahmadinejad’s support and so continued to be a member of the former president’s inner team.

Since Rouhani was elected as president, Hamid Baqai has frequently quarreled with officials from his government. This includes, but is not limited to, incidents such as the withdrawal of more than $5.5 million from the presidential office’s bank account, using a government-owned building for Ahmadinejad’s staff after he was no longer president, and much more.

Throughout his years under Ahmadinejad, and in particular when he was head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, he frequently argued with reporters and was habitually accused of serious crimes. Then, in 2012, he was sentenced to a four-year ban on serving in the government for destroying historical buildings. However, the verdict was overturned and he was able to remain part of the Ahmadinejad administration.


Changing Red Lines

During that period, Ahmadinejad stated that judicial verdicts against senior members of his government constituted a red line that could not be crossed. In the current climate, Ahmadinjad's allies are no longer protected. 

The high-profile arrests of Hamid Baqai and Mohammad Reza Rahimi have drawn public attention to other open-ended cases against members of the Ahmadinejad government. Although it is unlikely that these cases will ever find themselves on the judicial calendar, they are a significant development, especially given the fact that Ahmadinejad’s allies are preparing for the upcoming parliamentary election.

After Mohammad Reza Rahimi’s conviction earlier this year, some commentators and opposition politicians expected that other cases involving officials from the Ahmadinejad era would remain untouched. But the recent arrest of Hamid Baqai suggests that the Iranian judiciary is serious in pursuing some, if not all, of these cases.

When Rahimi was arrested, Ahmadinejad publicly distanced himself from his former official, and the corruption with which he was associated. This time, it is expected that he will take his time to react to Baqai’s arrest. This is because he is aware of the fact that, these days, his actions mean less than they once did. 

Much like Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Baqai does not have a political support network working behind the scenes to save him. Although he may be released on bail and his case might not go to trial, his arrest signals a warning to those former  officials who were were ousted from government during the presidential election of 2013. Since Rouhani’s election, Ahmadinejad’s allies have had to contend with a new environment, one that does not necessarily conform to the same red lines, and which acknowledges, at least in part, the damage done by the previous administration. 


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